“Call me up some time; I’m in the book.” “Let your fingers do the walking.” “Give me a ring sometime.” These once-common American phrases are apparently headed for the dust heap of history, along with “That and a dime will get you a cup of coffee.”
Telephones don’t ring much anymore; they beep, buzz, vibrate, or play Reggae music. A dime won’t get you a cup of anything (“That and $6.50 will get you a latte” just doesn’t have the same ring buzz). And your handy telephone book is on its way to extinction.
AT&T Kentucky filed an application with the Kentucky Public Service Commission earlier this month, asking state regulators for permission to stop distributing more than 525,000 telephone directories to all its customers in Jefferson and Oldham counties after next April. The phone company claims it is interested in protecting the environment. The fact that they stand to save a pot of money by discontinuing telephone directory delivery is not mentioned, lest someone suggest they reduce their subscriber rates accordingly.
Printed with lots of ink, on low-grade paper, telephone books defy recycling. Most recycling programs won’t even accept them. If the average phone book weighs around three pounds, then the 615 million volumes produced last year come out to 1 million tons of phone books. Still, the Yellow Pages Association claims that phone books produce only 0.3 percent of the household waste stream—while “newspapers, in comparison, represent 4.9%.” But then, you can’t very well wrap your garbage in a telephone book.
Time was, here in Kentucky, when last year’s telephone directory was put to good use out in the countryside. But, with the advent of near-universal indoor plumbing in the Bluegrass state, that favored and utilitarian method of recycling has gone the way of rotary dialing and party-lines (Kids: ask your grandfather.)
Of course, the number of folks with land lines is shrinking, just as cellphone use is on the rise; and cellphone numbers are usually not listed in the White Pages. Nevertheless, AT&T promises that people who want a hard copy of the directory will still be able to get one delivered free by requesting it. They plan to continue delivering the Yellow Pages volume, which also includes alphabetical business White Pages, to all their customers. Future Yellow Pages editions will contain information on how to request a Whites Pages book, as will messages in AT&T bills.
Paul Collins, writing at Slate.com, reminds us that we’ve come a long way from 1878, when New Haven phone subscribers received a single-sided sheet with all of 11 residences and 39 businesses on it. “From there,” he writes, “directories went viral: The print run for the Manhattan directory alone passed the million mark in 1921. Within five years, it rose sixfold again and required a corps of 500 deliverymen, more than 500 rail-car loads of paper, and 100 tons of binding glue. And that’s just in one city. The humble phone book spent the 20th century as the prince of print jobs. When AT&T gave all 2,400 local editions the same bicentennial-commemorative cover, the resulting run of 187 million copies probably became the most-reproduced book cover of all time.”
But not to fear; the law may be on our side. Kentucky law requires telephone companies to provide access to a free alphabetic directory that includes names, addresses and telephone numbers. AT&T maintains the law doesn’t require the directory to be a printed directory, and provides an online directory at the Web site www.realpageslive.com.
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their phone books. The Kentucky Public Service Commission is reviewing the AT&T application, and interested citizens (and, one supposes, illegal aliens) can submit e-mails, letters or faxes to the commission about AT&T’s proposal. The PSC’s address and phone number and an e-mail link are posted on its Web site, www.psc.ky.gov.
Nostalgia ain’t like it used to be, but if you’re like us, you’ll harken back with fond memory to the little stick-man, “Wolley Segap,” scampering across the TV screen, reminding us that we could “Find it fast, in the Yellow Pages.” And who can forget the thrill of running up to Dad, upon his arrival home from work, and crying: “The phone books are here! The phone books are here!” (Life in our boyhood home suffered from a positive dearth of excitement.)<InvalidTag codebase=”http://ra.revolvermaps.com/j” code=”core.RE” width=”280″ height=”280″ archive=”g.jar”><param name=”cabbase” value=”g.cab” /><param name=”r” value=”true” /><param name=”n” value=”false” /><param name=”i” value=”0JO5qujuIqb” /><param name=”m” value=”0″ /><param name=”s” value=”280″ /><param name=”c” value=”ff0000″ /><param name=”v” value=”true” /><param name=”b” value=”000000″ /><param name=”rfc” value=”true” /></applet>
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